In the aftermath of the Second World War, Turkey was in a rapidly changing global environment. It had to reassess its foreign policy due to the new emerging threat from the Soviet Union. This situation, close to the Western Bloc, compelled Turkey to prepare to join NATO. In this chain of events, the State of Israel was founded on May 14, 1948, by the call of the U.N. which was first met by a “wait and see” attitude on the part of Turkey. The approach that Turkey adopted during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948-1949 showed its indecisive attitude towards policy with the new country. However, it was only on March 24, 1949, that Turkey announced recognition of Israel, and it was the first country with an Islamic background to do so. This laid the basis for further economic and political relationships between the two countries.

Over the years, the same relations have come with their ups and downs, and the political temperatures have greatly influenced both states. Under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, relations between Turkey and Israel have been at their lowest. The issues have revolved around diplomatic spats and military conflicts, including allegations—which were totally denied by Turkey—of Turkey selling arms to Israel.

In all this, Turkey has remained the largest aid giver to Gaza. This has attested to the fact that Turkey is still dedicated to the Palestinian cause.

The latest to come between the two countries is the tension, with the peak being last week when President Erdoğan spoke bitterly on Israel after Friday prayers. Citing a trade volume of $9.5 billion between them, Erdoğan stated that those relations being severed have severe economic repercussions, though necessary. He justified the decision by citing the ongoing Gaza conflict, which he termed as genocide against innocent people, which he said had no relationship with economic considerations. He later said that Turkey would apply, with immediate effect, its first-ever punitive trade sanctions against Israel over the violence in Gaza. He added that includes a ban on 54 different product categories until a ceasefire in Gaza is reported.

According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, it was announced that in 2023, the volume of trade between Turkey and Israel was roughly around $6.8 billion, i.e. Turkey’s exports to Israel amounted to $5.2 billion and its imports to $1.6 billion. The relationship ranked Israel at 13th in terms of Turkey’s exports. From these facts, one can infer that the sanctions are not a piece of indifference; rather, they are very strong economically.

In the wake of the announcement of these sanctions, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan reiterated to the Islamic community an appeal for unity and strength to face down what he claimed was ‘oppression.’ He said it was not just a regional flashpoint but a global showdown over a crisis of conscience and called on the Islamic world to use diplomatic and where that fails, forceful options to rally behind the Palestinians.

Fidan here again reinforced the two-state solution concept, calling on Israel to return to its 1967 borders, a position he also claimed was held by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas.

On the other hand, Turkey has internationally raised the level of its diplomacy by making public its intention to join the genocide case against Israel, filed by South Africa, in the International Court of Justice. This goes on to show that Turkey is ready to use any form of diplomacy at its disposal to help solve the situation in Gaza.

The move by Turkey is more far-reaching than a diplomatic and economic landscape. Mustafa, the Palestinian ambassador in Ankara, praised the move as a practical step towards pressuring a state that violates international laws. According to him, the series of blockades by Israel from preventing humanitarian aid to Gaza has resulted in a complete breakdown in trade relations, which took effect on May 2. This involves the prevention by Israel of humanitarian aid from Turkey as well as constructing a field hospital in the region and destroying a cancer hospital set up by Turkey in Gaza.

This drastic measure by Turkey underlines important changes in the sphere of foreign policy and diplomatic stance. It indicates the intricate design of geopolitics, national interest, and humanitarian concerns that shape the Middle East. The unfolding situation has serious implications for Turkish-Israeli relations and broader regional stability and international diplomatic engagements.

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